Lady Gaga and Intel Paid Tribute to David Bowie at the 2016 Grammys with Help from Smart Technology, Robots and 3D Printing

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bowieIf you think about it, there’s really no better person to pay tribute to David Bowie than Lady Gaga. Theatrical, androgynous, and wildly creative, the two have created some of the most outlandish onstage characters in the history of music performance. Lady Gaga has named Bowie as the most influential person on her career; without him, she says, she never would have had the confidence to transform from Stefanie Germanotta into her outrageous alter ego. Being asked to pay tribute to the recently-departed Bowie at the 2016 Grammys, then, was a massive honor – and one not to be taken lightly.

Like Bowie, Lady Gaga is a devotee of fashion and technology, and how they can be incorporated into art. For her performance at the Grammys, Gaga enlisted the help of massive, multi-technology corporation Intel.

“I love artists. And I think what’s so exciting about this collaboration is that I get to shine a light on all of these scientists that are, you know, artists in my opinion,” she said.:”All of the things that they develop, that they research, that they invent…they are dreamers, and that is at the essence of being an artist, is having a strong vision that you chase after.”

curieOne of the core elements of the huge multimedia performance was also one of the smallest. Intel’s Curie module is a button-sized microcomputer that can be incorporated into wearable technology – in this case, two rings that Gaga wore throughout the performance. Those glowing orbs that Lady Gaga wore on her hands during her tribute weren’t just there for decoration – they were actually controlling the light and images projected on the screen behind her.

“The Curie system that we put together can recognize motion, gestures, and the actual location,” said Curie engineer Lakshman Krishnamurthy. “We take all that information, it goes to a server, and is used to generate the visual effects.”

And then there were the robots. During the tribute, Lady Gaga played an upright piano, similar to the instrument Bowie famously used onstage – except that Bowie’s piano never danced. Gaga’s piano not only danced, but it did so in perfect choreography with her human dancers. This was also thanks to the Curie computer. The Intel team placed several of the microcomputer modules on the body of choreographer Richard Jackson, who then ran through several of the dance movements that would be used during the performance. The Curie modules tracked his movements and were then used to “teach” the three robot legs supporting the piano to replicate the movements of the dancers with whom it would be sharing the stage.

piano

The entire performance turned out to be a brilliant explosion of light and sound, but my favorite part is the very beginning. The lights come up on Lady Gaga’s face, and as she begins to sing the opening lines of “Space Oddity,” what appears to be brightly colored paint drips down her face, finally coalescing into Bowie’s iconic blue and orange lightning bolt across her eye and cheek. A spider (from Mars?) then bursts from the lightning bolt and skitters across her face before morphing into a full moon on her forehead. It’s an amazing series of effects that lasts only seconds, and appears incredibly real (particularly the spider) – but it’s all just light.

Below is a look at the Intel making-of process for the performance:

The greatest difficulty, according to Intel’s Paul Tapp, was that Lady Gaga would be singing while the team projected the images onto her face, meaning that the projections would have to be precisely matched to her facial movements. To ensure absolute accuracy, the team took a 3D scan of Gaga’s face, then 3D printed it in several different expressions so that they could practice.

The final result was a haunting and beautiful introduction to the fittingly surreal spectacle that followed.gaga

“We wanted to create an expression of not only David Bowie’s magic, as not only a visual artist and musician who combined music, technology, fashion, and art, but also to show that there is magic that can be made with technology,” Lady Gaga said. “That it’s not just big machines, and computers, and the Internet. You can actually create imagery that is otherworldly – moments, events, experiences that have never happened before. To imagine the unimaginable, to see the unseeable, think the unthinkable, invent the uninventable – and so that is really what the performance is trying to say. And that’s what he was, and is, forever.”

Watch Lady Gaga’s performance below. Discuss in the 3D Printing & Bowie Tribute forum over at 3DPB.com.

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